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The Punishment of Bigamy in Late-medieval Troyes

The Punishment of Bigamy in Late-medieval Troyes

By Sara McDougall

Imago temporis: medium Aevum, No.3 (2009)

Abstract: This article examines the punishment of bigamy in the late-medieval diocese of Troyes. By studying this punishment in the context of all punishments handed down by the episcopal court, this articie seeks out the meaning of the punishment of bigamy, and the meaning of bigamy itself in this time and place. The ecclesiastical judges of Troyes perceived the crime of bigamy as an attack on the very nature of sacramental marriage. The punishment for bigamy resembled that of heresy, or an offence on the level of a priest who committed homicide. Bigamy was also considered a “public crime” committed not only against the abandoned spouse and the new, deceived, spouse, but also against the Church and the body public.

According to canon law, for a Christian to contract marriage lo more than one living spouse at once is illegal, a crime we would call bigamy. This article addresses the punishment of that crime in the fifteenth-century diocese of Troyes, in Northeastern France. As I will argue, the bishop’s court in Troyes regarded multiple marriage as a particularly serious crime, an offence committed not only against the sacrament oí marriage, but against Christianity itself, a crime comparable in some respects to heresy. The use of public punishment and imprisonment against those found guilty of this violation of marriage law aligned the crime of bigamy with offences such as heresy and the worst crimes committed by clerics against their avowed commitment to religious life.

To make my argument, I will examine and interpret punishments handed down by the bishop’s court of Troyes. By treating these punishments as a kind of official language, I will ask what the crime of bigamy meant in the context of ecclesiastical justice.

Punishment sends messages, and can indeed constitute a kind of official language. By choosing to inflict a particular punishment, a court makes a statement about the nature and severity of a given crime. The goal of this article is to reconstruct the statements the ecclesiastical court of Troyes aimed to make through its punishment of bigamy.

Click here to read this article from Imago temporis: medium Aevum

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